Visual Adventures of Sonar

Sonar kunne også by på et finfint filmprogram, og Siouxzi Mernagh har snakket med regissøren av Sonar-filmen, Finisterrae - Sergio Caballero.

My first memory of sound was echo...” (Warp 20 London documentary)

One of the significant aspects of the annual Sonar Festival in Barcelona that sets it apart from the long run of sweat-soaked summer music festivals, is its fascination for all things visual. Of course it’s no mean feat to drag music lovers dancing in the sunshine inside to watch a film (even if it’s about music!) during a festival - thumbs up to the festival for trying. And for a festival that touts itself as being about advanced music, it’s appropriate then that its visual sensibility is equally as ‘advanced’.

The sound or vision of the future is of course very much a product of the past. The festival did very well, then to run a film series that attempted to explore some of the early roots of the music at the festival. Watching footage of the post-punk true pioneers of electronic music from the late 70’s like The Human League, Cabaret Voltaire, Gary Numan and Throbbing Gristle, in Ben Whalley’s BBC produced doco “Synth Brittania” gave a strange feeling of echo. The signature styles of these pioneers with their curled quiffs and angular fluorescent jackets, shiny tights, denims and androgynous make-up was almost painfully similar to some of the Sonar DJs playing and of course the hipsters dancing around in the sunshine. Of course there’s more to it than just hot fashion but the visual connection between the pioneers and the current ‘progressive’ hipsters was undeniable. The similarly essential Warp 20 London documentary was a work of art in itself, its beauty almost distracting from the content: several key Warp artists like Battles, Mira Calix and Broadcast,
discuss their relationship with music supplemented by a soundtrack from Flying Lotus and
Autechre. A brilliant interaction between visuals and music.

The “We Call It Skweee” documentary also proclaimed to be about the ‘future’ of music, but in a fun way - the next steps in the dance-off between Scandinavian dubstep/funky and more commercialised forms going even as far as R&B. It was offhandedly candid, personal and definitely didn’t take itself too seriously, about a little crowd of Swedes and Finns, passionate about their own form of making progressive music that culminated in a play-off at Sonar 09. Their nervousness before going on stage was completely charming.

Of course it’s hard to escape the imagery of Sonar: consistent visuals across posters, website, everything vaguely Sonar-related... This year it’s a pair of ‘ghosts’ carrying a torch or a windsock or riding a horse across the Spanish countryside. It could be seen as a slightly pretentious or over-funded marketing ploy by the festival organisers to posit themselves as not just as commercial music festival but also part of the visual art world. Thankfully, there is a story behind the imagery that lends it far greater credibility.

The imagery is taken from the Sonar ‘feature film’, “Finisterrae”, created by none other than festival creative directors. A small group of journalists at Sonar were fortunate to have a sneak preview of the full film before its release to Spanish cinemas and the international film festival circuit.

According to the filmmakers, the film was (incredibly) shot and edited in three months. It’s a journey film from that starts at the closing of Sonar 2009 that follows the St James Way through the Pyrnees to Sonar 2010. The significance of focusing on this journey is that Sonar 2010 coincides with the jubilee for the Holy Feast day for the St James Way (a traditional pilgrimage). Finisterrae certainly contains plenty of beautiful moments and a lovely sense of playfulness and the absurd. It does beg the question, though, apart from celebrating the happy coincidence of Sonar 2010 with the jubilee, what are they really trying to say with this film? It was apparent from the film that there was no script, that the film was made from a series of moments and often stunning images. The recurrent theme of the spirituality animals was interesting but it did seem as if the filmmakers had simply tapped into this current ongoing trend for bands to wear animal get-up, a strange animistic crossover of hipster with animal. Undoubtedly, however, the film is highly original. The only similar film that springs to mind is ‘Face’ made by the Taiwanese director Ming-Liang Tsai and commissioned by The Louvre.

FINISTERRAE - Trailer 1 from Sónar on Vimeo.

Following the screening, the writer/director Sergio Caballero chatted about his intentions for the film and how he sees his and his film’s relationship with sound and music.

In terms of inspiration for your films, does the vision inspire what sound you need for the film? Or perhaps, the sound inspires the vision?

- I am arriving from my overall vision for the film as a sound and music composer, then the visuals come last - it’s a reverse process of sound inspiring vision, rather than the film being made first then a sound track cut to it.

- I work with Jim Turner to create the sound first. It’s sound that builds the landscape of ideas we create. We don’t just use synthetic sounds, we also create soundscapes from landscapes - using elements of the natural world. We use this in quite a playful way, for example taking the sounds of animals in summer and using them in winter scenes. We like to do more than just build the music for specific moments of the movie - we’re not trying to push emotions in specific directions, more just to open possibilities.

One of the best moments in the film for me was the image of the first ghost with the windsock trudging through the snowy landscape then suddenly followed by the phantom rider while the opening brilliant moments of Suicide’s ‘Ghost Rider’ rupture through the pristine visuals. Can you talk a bit about your interpretation on the
interactions between sound art and screen art?

- There’s no script - and the ‘text’ and even the thematic concerns, if any, come later. Although the film does have themes; the elements - water and fire especially, and even taxidermy, which is a recurrent visual motif in my work. Although I should mention that I’m not trying to specifically ‘say’ anything with the use of stuffed animals in my work, it’s just pure visual playfulness.

- Even the dialogue was recorded and added later, nothing was recorded on the scene. The idea behind recording all the dialogue in Russian was to take the viewer even deeper on the journey - to make them feel even further removed from the story and the landscape.

In your opinion, is film currently more progressive as an artform or do you think soundart/ music is pushing more boundaries?

- Cinema is much more academic. Electronic and experimental music was something you could do with pretty basic equipment even in the ‘70’s, whereas experimental film is only now becoming more accessible financially.

- Then comes the topic of distribution. Music and film distribution are so very different, take such different approaches. There’s not really any distribution channels for experimental film, so it doesn’t make money. Although the internet may now help with getting it out there.

It’s a very playful film, it doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously which is nice...

- Yes, I use a lot of imagery, like the stuffed animals, that are just a recurring theme in my work. I'm not trying to say too much with that, it’s just about the visual. Sonar 2003 used a stuffed dog in the visuals. It gives a new life to the animals. I also use the theme of childhood phantoms (which is why the ‘ghosts’ are simply wearing sheets over them, nothing more elaborate). I used the name Garrel for the Oracle just because he’s one of my favourite filmmakers. We’re having fun with it.

Great to hear. Will also be very interesting to see what the filmmakers come up with for
next year’s Sonar.

The film is soon to be released to Spanish cinemas and to the international festival circuit.

FINISTERRAE - Trailer 2 from Sónar on Vimeo.

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